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  • Kevin Patton

Eat Well Feel Better

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

What we put in our bodies affects our minds. Making food choices for a healthy lifestyle can be as simple as balancing your calories, choosing foods that enhance your health, and cutting back on foods that are bad for you.

If only….

In this blog, I hope to make healthy eating a bit less of a chore.

Those of you who have read my previous blogs know that, at Living Well, we're all about evidence-based practice so I'm sticking to the NHS Guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines provide science-based advice for making food choices that promote good health and a healthy weight and help prevent disease. The Physical Activity Guidelines provide recommendations on the amount, types, and level of intensity of physical activity needed to achieve and maintain good health.

The Dietary Guidelines may be summarized as

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.

  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.

  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Decrease

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.

  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Healthy eating and physical activity work hand in hand to help us live healthier lives. The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults be physically active for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week—children need 60 minutes each day.

  • You can stay physically active by doing activities such as walking, dancing, bicycling, or gardening and by reducing the amount of time you spend sitting.

In this blog we will focus on

  • Small changes you can make to choose less salt, and less added sugars.

  • Food substitutions and using spices, herbs, and salt-free seasonings that will give you new ways to eat healthfully.

  • Ideas for recipe modifications and cooking techniques to reduce calories, sodium, or added sugars.

Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. It can have harmful effects on metabolism and contribute to all sorts of diseases.

Here are 10 disturbing reasons why you should avoid added sugar like the plague.

1. Added Sugar Contains No Essential Nutrients and is Bad For Your Teeth

You’ve probably heard this a million times before… but it’s worth repeating.

Added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a whole bunch of calories with NO essential nutrients.

For this reason, they are called “empty” calories. There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar… just pure energy.

When people eat up to 10-20% of calories as sugar (or more), this can become a major problem and contribute to nutrient deficiencies.

Sugar is also very bad for the teeth, because it provides easily digestible energy for the bad bacteria in the mouth.

2. Added Sugar is High in Fructose, Which Can Overload Your Liver

In order to understand what is so bad about sugar, then you need to understand what it is made of.

Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars… glucose and fructose.

Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce it.

Fructose is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it.

The thing with fructose is that it can only be metabolized by the liver in any significant amounts.

This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just finished an exercise session. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it.

However, if the liver is full of glycogen (much more common), eating a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat.

When repeatedly eating large amounts of sugar, this process can lead to fatty liver and all sorts of serious problems.

Keep in mind that all of this does NOT apply to fruit. It is almost impossible to overeat fructose by eating fruit.

There is also massive individual variability here. People who are healthy and active can tolerate more sugar than people who are inactive and eat a Western, high-carb, high-calorie diet.

3. Overloading The Liver With Fructose Can Cause Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

When fructose get turned into fat in the liver, it is shipped out as VLDL cholesterol particles.

However, not all of the fat gets out, some of it can lodge in the liver.

This can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a growing problem in Western countries that is strongly associated with metabolic diseases.

Studies show that individuals with fatty liver consume up to 2-3 times as much fructose as the average person.

4. Sugar Can Cause Insulin Resistance, a Stepping Stone Towards Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes

Insulin is a very important hormone in the body. It allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat.

Having too much glucose in the blood is highly toxic and one of the reasons for complications of diabetes, like blindness.

One feature of the metabolic dysfunction that is caused by the Western diet, is that insulin stops working as it should. The cells become “resistant” to it.

This is also known as insulin resistance, which is believed to be a leading driver of many diseases… including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease and especially Type II Diabetes.

Many studies show that sugar consumption is associated with insulin resistance, especially when it is consumed in large amounts. 5. Insulin Resistance Can Progress to Type II Diabetes

When our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, the beta cells in our pancreas make more of it. This is crucial, because chronically elevated blood sugars can cause severe harm.

Eventually, as insulin resistance becomes progressively worse, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand of producing enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels down.

At this point, blood sugar levels skyrocket and a diagnosis of type II diabetes is made.

Given that sugar can cause insulin resistance, it is not surprising to see that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have up to an 83% higher risk of Type II diabetes.

6. Sugar Can Give You Cancer

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and is characterized by uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells.

Insulin is one of the key hormones in regulating this sort of growth.

For this reason, many scientists believe that having constantly elevated insulin levels (a consequence of sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer.

In addition, the metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption are a known driver of inflammation, another potential cause of cancer.

Multiple studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar are at a much higher risk of getting cancer.

7. Due to its Effects on Hormones and the Brain, Sugar has Unique Fat-Promoting Effects

Not all calories are created equal.

Different foods can have different effects on our brains and the hormones that control food intake.

Studies show that fructose doesn’t have the same kind of effect on satiety as glucose.

In one study, people drank either a fructose-sweetened drink or a glucose-sweetened drink.

Afterwards, the fructose drinkers had much less activity in the satiety centers of the brain and felt hungrier.

There is also a study where fructose didn’t lower the hunger hormone ghrelin nearly as much as glucose did.

Over time, because the calories from sugar aren’t as fulfilling, this can translate into an increased calorie intake.

8. Because it Causes Massive Dopamine Release in The Brain, Sugar is Highly Addictive

Sugar can be addictive for a lot of people.

Like abusive drugs, sugar causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain....much more than we were ever exposed to from foods found in nature and we can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods.

9. Sugar is a Leading Contributor to Obesity in Both Children and Adults

The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is a recipe for fat gain disaster.

It leads to decreased satiety… and can get people addicted so that they lose control over their consumption.

Not surprisingly, people who consume the most sugar are by far the most likely to become overweight or obese. This applies to all age groups.

Many studies have examined the link between sugar consumption and obesity and found a strong statistical association.

The link is especially strong in children, where each daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a whopping 60% increased risk of obesity.

One of the most important things you can do if you need to lose weight is to significantly cut back on sugar consumption.

10. It Ain’t The Fat… It’s SUGAR That Raises Your Cholesterol and Gives You Heart Disease

For many decades, people have blamed saturated fat for heart disease… which is the #1 killer in the world.

However… new studies are showing that saturated fat is harmless.

The evidence is mounting that sugar, NOT fat, may be one of the leading drivers of heart disease via the harmful effects of fructose on metabolism.

Studies show that large amounts of fructose can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (very, very bad), raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increase abdominal obesity… in as little as 10 weeks.

These are all major risk factors for heart disease and, predictably enough, many observational studies find a strong statistical association between sugar consumption and the risk of heart disease.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is also called Coconut Palm Sugar. It is a natural sugar made from sap, which is the sugary circulating fluid of the coconut plant. It is often confused with Palm Sugar, which is similar but made from a different type of palm tree.

Coconut sugar is made in a natural 2-step process:

1. A cut is made on the flower of the coconut palm and the liquid sap is collected into containers.

2. The sap is placed under heat until most of the water has evaporated.

Regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup don’t contain any vital nutrients and therefore supply “empty” calories.

However, coconut sugar does retain quite a bit of the nutrients found in the coconut palm.

Most notable of these are the minerals Iron, Zinc, Calcium and Potassium, along with some short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants that may also provide some health benefits.

Then it contains a fiber called Inulin, which may slow glucose absorption and explain why coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular table sugar.

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels. Glucose is given a GI of 100 and if a food has a GI of 50, then it raises blood sugar half as much as pure glucose.

Coconut Sugar has a GI of 35, which puts it in the low range. This is much lower than table sugar, which is somewhere around 60.

At the end of the day, coconut sugar is no miracle food.

If you’re going to use coconut sugar, then use it sparingly. It is slightly “less bad” than regular sugar, but definitely not something you should eat every day.

Instead of choosing sweet breakfast cereals

Try choosing whole-grain cereals that don‘t have frosting or added sugars.


Choosing fat-free yogurt or fat-free cottage cheese. Add fresh fruit and a few almonds for extra flavor and crunch.

Instead of drinking sugary soft drinks and juice drinks

Try drinking water or unsweetened iced tea with lemon juice.

Instead of eating big portions of sweet desserts

Try eating a piece of fresh fruit—yum!


Splitting a small dessert with a friend.

Instead of choosing canned fruit packed in syrup

Try choosing tinned fruit labeled "packed in natural juice".


Choosing fresh or frozen fruit.

Salt depletes the body of potassium, a mineral important to the proper functioning of the nervous system. Salt raises blood pressure that in turn puts a strain on the heart and arteries and hastens arteriolosclerosis.

Recommended dosage – do not exceed 1gm of salt per day.

Many of us in the UK eat too much salt. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. But a few simple steps can help you to cut your salt intake.

You don't have to add salt to food to be eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals.

Diets high in salt can cause raised blood pressure, which currently affects around one third of adults in the UK.

High blood pressure often has no symptoms. But if you have it, you are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

Cutting down on salt lowers blood pressure, reducing your risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease.

High-salt foods (Eat Less) The following foods are almost always high in salt.

  • anchovies

  • bacon

  • cheese

  • gravy granules

  • ham

  • olives

  • pickles

  • prawns

  • salami

  • salted and dry roasted nuts

  • salt fish

  • smoked meat and fish

  • soy sauce

  • stock cubes

  • yeast extract

Foods that can be high in salt

In the following foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties. That means you can cut down on salt by comparing brands and choosing the one that is lower in salt. Nutrition labels can help you do this.

These foods include:

  • bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta

  • pasta sauces

  • crisps

  • pizza

  • ready meals

  • soup

  • sandwiches

  • sausages

  • tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces

  • breakfast cereals

Reduce Your Sodium (Salt) Intake

  • Read the Nutrition Facts Labels for salt content per 100g:

High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (0.6g sodium). Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium).

  • When purchasing tinned foods, select those labeled as "reduced sodium", "low sodium", or "no salt added".

  • Rinse regular canned foods to remove some sodium.

  • Gradually reduce the amount of sodium in your foods. Your taste for salt will change over time.

Consume more fresh food and few processed foods that are high in sodium.

Eat more home-prepared foods, where you have more control over sodium, and use little or no salt or salt-containing seasonings when cooking or eating foods.

When eating at restaurants, ask that salt not be added to your food or order lower sodium options, if available.

Try Herbs and Spices Instead of Salt


Use in soups, salads, vegetables, fish, and meats.


Use in salads, vegetables, breads, and snacks.

Chili Powder

Use in soups, salads, vegetables, and fish.


Use in soups, salads, and vegetables.

Dill Weed and Dill Seed

Use in fish, soups, salads, and vegetables.


Use in soups, salads, vegetables, and meats.


Use in soups, vegetables, meats, and chicken.


Use in soups, salads, vegetables, beef, fish, and chicken.


Use in vegetables, meats, and snacks.


Use in soups, salads, vegetables, meats, and chicken.


Use in salads, vegetables, fish, and meats.


Use in soups, salads, vegetables, meats, and chicken.


Use in salads, vegetables, fish, and meats.


Use in salads, vegetables, fish, and chicken.

Studies show that if you are black and of African or Caribbean origin you are twice as likely to have a stroke, and at a younger age, than white people. The reasons for this are complex and not completely understood.

What we do know is if you are black and of African or Caribbean origin you are more likely to develop high blood pressure or diabetes or have sickle cell disease, which are all risk factors for stroke.

Too much salt can increase your blood pressure. You should not eat more than 6g (or a teaspoon) of salt per day. This is particularly important if you are black African or black Caribbean, as research shows you are likely to be more sensitive to the effects of salt.

Much of the salt we eat is "hidden" in processed foods like ready meals, crisps, nuts, cake and biscuits, as well as salt fish, corned beef, bacon, salt pork and processed meats.

Premixed flavourings such as jerk seasoning or curry powders can also be high in salt. Try using fresh ginger, lemon juice and chillies or dried herbs and spices like paprika or pimento to flavour food instead. Also avoid adding salt to food when you‘re cooking or at the table.

Instead of buying already prepared meals and processed meats (such as cold cuts, hot dogs, and rotisserie chicken)

Try making more meals using fresh, lean meats and fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables.

Instead of eating frozen or delivery pizza

Try making veggie pizza at home using fresh vegetables, a small amount of cheese, and no-salt added tomato sauce.

Instead of choosing regular tinned vegetables

Try buying fresh veggies or frozen vegetables without sauces. Use herbs to add flavour.


Choosing tinned vegetables that are labeled "no salt added".

Instead of adding salt to foods for flavour

Try seasoning foods with herbs, spices, chilies, lime or lemon juice, and vinegar.

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